Beer Creek Brewing Company, the Santa Fe area’s newest brewery and pizza destination, just got their brand-new brewhouse, and they’ve already put it to work.
You’ve probably heard of Beer Creek by now, and in the last year you might have taken that short drive down beautiful Highway 14, stopping halfway between Santa Fe and Madrid (across from the Lone Butte General Store and Shell Station), and pulled into the big crunchy gravel lot, where there was plenty of place to park your truck, motorcycle, or pregnant lady (don’t look at me funny. There’s a sign). You probably sauntered into BCBC, because one doesn’t just walk into BCBC. And, you might have found yourself seated outside on their huge open patio, looking over an extensive list of pizza and mouthwatering pub grub. Undoubtedly, the next thing you did was order a cold beer from their hand-selected list, because that’s what you do on a patio in the heat of a Santa Fe summer.
But, what you probably haven’t done yet is sip on one of Beer Creek’s own brews made in-house. That’s because, other than straight-up collaborations, and a couple brews they did at other facilities, they’ve only been making their own stuff on-site for a few weeks. Up until now, they’d been waiting quite a while for their brewhouse to arrive.
I promised I’d sink the boat metaphors for a while, but, Beer Creek’s ship just came in. And, with some tireless efforts and some keen know-how, their brewhouse is finally up and running and filling tanks with Beer Creek goodness.
Beer Creek opened during the early summer of 2018. Maybe they hadn’t been brewing their own beer at first, but they’ve kept busy. If you remember from my previous story, this handful of guys and gals are a bunch of artisans, artists, craftsmen, do-it-yourselfers, and they all mean business. Between opening and now, they’ve had plenty to do, building out bars, perfecting their pizzas, filling patios for musical acts, and finding the right formulas for front-of-house operations. They’ve got a lot to show for their hard work, and have tons of stories to tell already.
If you’re looking for a story, just sidle up to the patio bar and talk with Rich Headly, owner and co-founder of Beer Creek Brewing Company. You’ll know who to look for; he’s the one who looks like a biker gang hired a mad scientist. That’s Rich, the beard is all his, and he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever have a beer with.
That’s what I did, as soon as I’d heard the news of some fancy new equipment being installed. I grabbed my mother and hit the highway. No joke. Mom had been dying to get back out to BCBC, because they make her favorite pizza in town, and I needed the big story.
After the server poured me a beer, she ushered me through the back into the brewhouse where Headley was waiting for me, unnamed-can-o’-beer-in-hand. With a proud-papa-like grin on his face, he immediately began to tell me about his new gear — before I could even get my digital recorder running.
Beer Creek Brewing Co.’s new brewhouse is a simple 5-barrel electric machine. But, don’t be fooled. It may be electric, but they have a ton of power going in. For instance, take their hot-liquor tank. They have ten 6500-watt heating elements plugged into the back, and that baby hums with efficiency like a Taycan and a Tesla on a drag strip.
The equipment started arriving from Bru-Gear, a Phoenix-based brewery manufacturer, about a year ago. Headley reminded me that they helped kickstart Bru-Gear’s business to get his homebrew system up and running. He called them back five years later and got a “swingin’ deal.” Once the order was placed, BCBC has been getting pieces and parts ever since.
“They never arrive at the same time,” Headley said. “A bunch arrived in March or April of this year, and then the rest of it, maybe a month or two ago.” And, it was custom built to fit in Beer Creek’s space. If you look at the picture below, there’s about an inch of space between the pipes and the ceiling. Like a glove!
From there, the brewhouse has all your standard equipment, the hot liquor tank, lauter tun, mash tun, and brew kettle, but it’s the controller that Headley pointed me towards.
The complex controller does all the micro management in the brewhouse, from flow direction, to power distribution, to running the glycol loop. And, they put it all together themselves, from screws to wires.
“We didn’t need to hire anybody. I did all that,” Headley said, pointing to the panel of wires on the wall, which reminds me of an old phone switchboard.
“I didn’t do all that,” he admitted, pointing at the intricate circuitry. “But, I did everything else to get it to work. I did all this, to get it into itself.”
He pointed to the plugs and hoses going out to the rest of the apparatus.
“We built the whole thing from the ground up, and Jami (Nordby) helped me,” Headley said. ”Jami and the boys, Matt, Ryan, and Kelly have been on every screw turned or decision made.”
Headley says this all couldn’t have been done without everyone’s help and hard work.
“We pulled Jami from the kitchen about two months ago,” Headley added, and Headley also left the front-of-house about half of the time, so they could focus on getting the brewhouse together.
And now, they’re making beer, but where does all the liquid go?
Headley told me that they have a 10-barrel and a 5-barrel fermenter, two 10-barrel (jacketed) brite tanks, and one 5-barrel brite tank in the back. Beer Creek is looking to add two or three more before long. What does that mean to non-brewer folk like me? That means that they’ll be pumping out plenty of their own beer for their epic patio parties — more beer than they’ll probably need back at home base for a while to come. But, who knows?
Headley said, tank space and sales will dictate how often they fire up the brew kettle.
There’s plenty of room for growth as far as space for kegs and brite tanks go, as the chiller system they’re building is much larger than they need it to be to handle a brewhouse of their current size.
Headley said that they’re aiming to get this system as eco-friendly as possible. Once they’ve sold enough beer, they can start building the solar stuff, but that’s a ways off. Right now, they’re literally working from the ground up, starting with their own waste-water management system. They’re aiming to do as much of it themselves as they can, separating the BODs to be hauled off to another treatment center, and make the remaining water quality good enough to give back to the earth.
One thing they’ll be bringing back is whole-cone hop usage, because a lot of their hops they use come from local growers. I asked how they keep their equipment clean, and Headley whipped out a giant muslin bag. Immediately I was taken back to my homebrew days, brewing with a hop sack.
“It’s like stepping back to the fundamentals of brewing,” Headley said, interrupting my nostalgia-laden memory. “And, it just lends itself to a great-tasting beer.”
The first beer they made on their new system was a Cascade SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) beer, to keep things simple and test out the gear. That was back on Thursday, September 3. Then, they just went for it and brewed an IPA, “a kick-ass IPA,” Headley said, one that keeps clear of both coasts, something more Odell-ish in model, perhaps not as hop-forward, but with a pretty sizeable grain-bill.
“For me it’s been awesome seeing Jami in a new light,” Headley said. “I think that’s the biggest deal, seeing Jami really at the top of another game. When he’s homebrewing, he’s pretty loose. But when he’s in (the brew house), it was a whole new Jami. We were his assistants. He has the experience with a bigger brewery.“
Jami, before taking the job at Beer Creek Brewing Company, was head brewer at Rowley Farmhouse Ales. You might have heard of them, too.
I reached out to the head brewer for a few questions about his new system.
DSBC: How is it brewing on the brand new system?
Nordby: It’s been really fun and educational breaking it in. We’ve done three brews as of today and are dialing it in quickly. The first beer, a SMaSH, should be on tap this weekend, followed by an IPA next week sometime. Today we brought Picture Rock Porter home, so look for that in a few weeks.
DSBC: How does it compare to systems you’ve worked on in the past?
Nordby: Rowley Farmhouse Ales has a gas-powered kettle, so bottom heat. We’ve collaborated with Tumbleroot, which has a steam jacketed system, and Red Door which is gas, too.
Ours is an electric brewhouse powered off of touch screens, so there has been an adjustment, but it’s also brand new system. Part of me misses the nostalgia of a broken-in system, but I love that we get to bring this one on to the scene.
DSBC: Did you guys hit any snags getting it up and running?
Nordby: We had equipment delays and software issues right up to the first brew on September 26, and some on the fly adjustments even yesterday. We also had a kettle vibration created, we believe, by a thermal pocket in the lowest zone. It was crazy. It shook the whole slab and building. We solved the issue with a re-circulation, but respect to the laws of thermodynamics!
DSBC: Now that it’s operational, what are you most excited to see the system do?
Nordby: I can’t wait to work through all the main styles to see what the equipment can do. For instance, am I going to (get) caramelization on a blonde or a pilsner? Stay tuned …
DSBC: What are you looking forward to brewing the most on the new system?
Nordby: Well, today was the porter, which has a special place in my heart, but I really want to get a nice big stout going and find room for some barrels. I don’t think we’ll dig a cellar here, so I’ll have to go to Rowley’s for that subterranean fix.
* * * * *
With the new system running, Headley said his plans for beer haven’t changed. BCBC wants to stay traditional (although, I may not be a fortune teller, but I see a bunch of imperial or double versions of styles in their future). Hey, my liver’s in if your mash tun’s in. But, they want to showcase what they like and what brewer Jami is best at, which is making more of the maltier brews, reds, browns, ESBs, and a certain black IPA they love making at home. They’ll also lighten things up with a blonde or a kolsch until they can start lagering.
Now, with their efficient electric brewhouse humming along, what’s next for Beer Creek?
They’re already self-distributing to about 8-to-12 offsite taps in the Santa Fe area.
Headley told me they are actively seeking a new taproom. He said it has to be the right place at the right time, but they aim to be more aggressive than some of the other breweries in town have been. But, he assured us that by 2020, they will be breaking ground on the new taproom in Santa Fe. Headley said he already has an area in mind. As far as getting out of town, he already has his eye on the upper westside of Albuquerque.
“That’s further down the line,” Headley said. “We don’t have a location (yet). We are still in this stage of reality. We opened a kick-ass restaurant. We’ve been open for a year and a half. Our brewery is now fully functional. And we’ve done this all in under a couple years.”
Currently on tap (or soon to be):
- Lizard Queen, or as Sara Headley wanted to rename it, “My Middle Name is Danger.” It’s an 8.4-percent ABV Imperial Blonde Ale made with 100-percent hops from Stone Lizard Hops Farm out of Belen. As strong as a lady in charge, as smooth as a lizard’s belly.
- Red Creek: DIPA Collab with Red Door
- Picture Rock Porter
- Coming Soon Pale Ale
“Every single brewery in New Mexico has been so warm and welcoming to us, and so helpful with anything we ask,” Headley said, wiping his brow. A good example of that is this Saturday, Beer Creek is hosting Hoptoberfest, where a number of local breweries are coming together to support the local hop growers. As of now, it looks like there will be about 10 breweries and seven hop farms represented. There will be over a dozen beers available for tasting, featuring local hops and the skills of our local brewers, a true celebration of farm to tap.
Brewery list, with beer info as provided to me or Stoutmeister (we will update as more info comes in):
- Beer Creek Brewing Co. — Picture Rock Porter Porter (6.8% ABV): Made with Zeus hops from La Capilla Hop Farm. Attila Imperial IPA (7.2% ABV): Chinook, Zeus, and Columbus from La Capilla and Crossed Sabers Hops Farms.
- Bombs Away Beer Co. — Bombs Away has made a pale ale with the White Crow Cascade wet hops (198 pounds!). We turned our mash tun into a hop back and ran the wort through it post boil. It has been conditioning ever since and will be officially released at the brewery on November 8.
- Cantero Brewing Co. — TBA
- Second Street Brewery — Wet Hop Otowi Pale Ale (5.5% ABV): Made with hops from La Capilla Hops Farm, out of La Cienega.
- Santa Fe Brewing Co. — TBA
- Rowley Farmhouse Ales — Agent Scully IPA (6.7% ABV): Made with fresh local Columbus hops.
- High & Dry Brewing — Officer Koharski (Gratzer/Grodziskie, 3.1% ABV, 25 IBU): Inspired by the historical style of an oak-smoked wheat beer from Poland, it is clear with light golden color, and high carbonation. Our version features apple wood-smoked malt and New Mexico-grown hops from Red Hat (Comet, Cascade and Galena). Mrs. Vanderhoff (Blonde Ale, 4.8% ABV, 25 IBU): wet-hopped blonde with Neomexicanus Amalia from Red Hat — simple, light, golden, refreshing and very approachable.
- Red Door Brewing Co. — Illusions of Flannel: India pale lager wet hopped with cascade from Red Hat Hop Farm. Red Creek DIPA: Double IPA collab with Beer Creek made with various hops from Stone Lizard Hop Farm
- Tumbleroot Brewery — Lizard Queen Imperial Blonde Ale (8.4% ABV): Made with Citronic, Glacier and others all from Stone Lizard Hop Farm.
Beers brewed with hops from:
- Stone Lizard Hops Farm
- Red Hat Hops Farm
- Crossed Sabers Hops Co.
- La Capilla Hops Farm
- Sherrog Hops Farm
- White Crow Hops Farm
- Willow Creek Royal Hops Farm
Ten breweries, seven hop farms, over a dozen beers being made with local hops in them. The event runs from 2 to 8 p.m. There is a $20 admission fee, with a portion of the proceeds going to the New Mexico Hop Growers Association. And, you get a sweet pint glass to take home with you. It sounds like a great time, and I plan to be out there celebrating my birthday. Woo hoo!
To Santa Fe’s newest full-on brewers, and many new beers to try, cheers!
For more @nmdarksidebc info and #craftbeer shenanigans, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro. Untappd: SantaFeLuke.